NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo City Council dealt with the task of prioritizing projects being funded by approved grants during a July 7 work session – the first in-person session held by the council since the coronavirus pandemic hit in late winter 2020.
City Treasurer Kate Vyskocil said the up-front costs to the city for all of the projects currently approved for reimbursable grants would total approximately $3.6 million – more than is available in city coffers.
The awarded grants include $189,481.19 from the State DNR for a marina electrical improvements project with an estimated total cost of $378,962.38 and up-front costs to the city of $378,962; $220,000 from the DNR and $110,000 from The Pokagon Fund for Phase I of the Dune Walk reconstruction (total cost $440,000, up-front costs to the city $440,000); $37,500 from The Pokagon Fund for the Marquette Greenway Trail (up-front costs to the city $37,500); $112,500 from the DNR for the Marquette Greenway Trailhead/Smith Street Pocket Park (total cost $150,000, up-front costs to the city $112,500);
Other imminent city projects include street paving jobs totaling an estimated $227,065 and a Mayhew Street Storm Sewer Repair project projected at $210,748.
The city has received a $500,000 DNR grant toward a $2.2 million Broadside Dock and Shoreline Protection project. The status of a $941,383.79 Federal CARES Act grant request for the project with a $500,000 city match was unknown (but expected soon) as of July 7, as was a $40,000 grant request from the USDA toward $47,900 of preliminary design work and cost estimating. Vyskocil noted that the the city needs the CARES Act grant to “really do that.”
An answer on a $150,000 request for a DNR grant to help fund the $200,000 Dune Walk Phase II project is expected in December.
Vyskocil said the city currently has a total of $1,124,751 in fund balance money available. She also noted that the city had some recent surprise expenses such as a major bridge repair project and adjusting the municipal marina docks due to high water levels.
Council members eventually agreed that moving ahead with road paving projects, beginning the Dune Walk project once the required agreements are in place, and street/sewer projects were at the top of their list.
Council member Lou O’Donnell IV noted that it might be a good idea to do some additional research on the marina electrical project since a similar one in South Haven did not yield a good result.
Also during the work session there was discussion of getting to the overdue task of reviewing the city’s ordinances to find and fix discrepancies and conflicts.
Council member Mark Robertson “officially welcomed” new City Manager Darwin Watson (who started the job three months ago) to his first in-person council meeting, drawing a round of applause from those in attendance.
O’Donnell said he would still like to have city meetings streamed online so those unable or unwilling to attend can still see what’s going on.
The issue of possible installing security cameras in the downtown and municipal marina areas also came up, as did the possibility of re-zoning parts the city.
Council member Brian Flanagan said he will remain focused on keeping pressure on the owner of the undeveloped downtown property to “make him do something.”
“Wouldn’t you like to see an open park with a music venue?” he asked.
Mayor John Humphrey said he wants to see the number of full-time residents increase and to have more workforce housing in the city.
Council member Roger Lijewski said he hopes the short-term rental issue can be worked out in a way that works for everyone, noting that many area jobs are created by such retail properties.
“I hope we can work together and come up with a good solution, a good set of rules, where we all can be happy,” he said.
During the public comment portion of the July 7 meeting, Debbie Schmidt said she would like to see plans made to make Oselka Park, which she said “still has so much potential,” a more vibrant place. She also said traffic was so congested in town during the holiday “you can’t make a left (turn) anywhere” and urged some sort of a traffic plan.
Several citizens spoke in favor of lifting the current moratorium on the issuance of short-term rental licenses in the city during the public comment portion of the July 7 work session.
Humphrey urged anyone interested in the issue to read the following letter by City Manager Darwin Watson that was recently posted to the cityofnewbuffalo.org website:
Re: Short-Term Rental Moratorium Status and Update
The City of New Buffalo (‘’the city’’) passed an ordinance to regulate the short-term rental of residential dwellings on April 15, 2019. The purpose behind the ordinance was that the city understood it must implement the necessary parameters for the safe operation of short-term rentals. This ordinance additionally aimed to ensure balance in and respect for the quality of life for the entirety of the community. More importantly, it attempted to assist in the realization of one of the core strategies of the city’s adopted Master Plan, Strengthening Neighborhoods and Housing.
Subsequently, the city enacted a temporary moratorium on the acceptance of new short-term rental registrations in the city on May 18, 2020, which was amended on June 25, 2020. The intent of the amendment was to protect property owner’s significant investments in prospective rental properties prior to the moratorium’s effective date. On December 20, 2020, the city extended the terms of the moratorium, and it is currently set to expire on August 31, 2021.
During the term of the moratorium, the city has made considerable progress in studying various issues relating to short-term rentals; developing a modified set of regulations; implementing a strategy for not only short-term rentals, but city-wide code enforcement; and the commencement of data collection. This progress also included the Planning Commission and City Council determining the need for improved zoning regulations. These regulations are necessary to address the propagation of short-term rentals in the R-1 zoning district, which is intended to be the lowest intensity district in the city consisting of single-family residential uses. Many have expressed that short-term rental use conflicts with this vision for the R-1 district, especially when operated as the exclusive use of a dwelling.
The city’s ultimate goal is to terminate the moratorium throughout the entire city. In the interim, the city has considered the removal of the moratorium in the remaining zoning districts. In order to achieve the ultimate termination of the moratorium, there are myriad steps that need to be taken and guidelines that need to be put in place. Of utmost importance is the Planning Commission’s continued work in developing zoning ordinance amendments germane to the R-1 district. This will create the framework by which the veracity and charm of the district can be preserved. In the near future, there will be a joint Planning Commission and City Council workshop/meeting to assist in this exercise.
In conclusion, the city continues to gather the necessary data surrounding the short
term rental component, as it is a significant factor in facilitating harmony in New Buffalo among all community members, both year-round and seasonal. It would be naive of all parties involved to believe there will not be growing pains as we navigate through this process. However, it should be our collective goal to do so agreeing to disagree, without being disagreeable. As we all move forward, it will take all of us working together, collaboratively, to make it a true success.